States Report Huge Drops in Military Ballot Requests

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

military ballotsLooks like the LOGPAC with your voting rights on it didn’t show up today.

The Military Voting Rights Project is reporting a gargantuan drop in the number of military absentee ballots that have been requested compared to the last presidential election cycle.

The problem is especially acute in Virginia – a battleground state – which is reporting a 92 percent drop-off in the number of service members who have at this point requested military ballots, compared with the 2008 elections.

The problem is not just limited to Virginia. The Military Voting Rights Project has found that the decline is nationwide:

Compiling data from Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, Alaska, Colorado and Nevada, Eversole’s organization found that military families have requested 55,510 absentee ballots so far this year. That’s a sharp decline from the 166,252 sought in those states in 2008.

Of these states, Virginia, North Carolina, and Colorado are battleground states, and Florida and Ohio are projected to be especially hard-fought. Military ballots alone have the potential to swing these states – and with it, the entire election.

The drop-off in military absentee ballot requests comes despite the passage of the Military Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009, which was supposed to streamline the registration and voting process to make it easier for military members to cast votes. That law was passed after reports surfaced that only 20 percent of eligible military voters overseas were able to get their ballots counted during the 2008 election.

Among other requirements, the MOVE Act required elections officials to get absentee ballots in the mail to servicemembers at least 45 days prior to the election.

A number of states failed to comply, though, and the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the state governments of New Mexico, New York, Wisconsin and Guam to force state governments into compliance with the law. The Department also pressured Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and reached an agreement with these entities out of court. According to Thomas Perez, a U.S. Justice Department attorney, one out of three troops stationed overseas during the 2010 election who wanted to vote were unable to do so.

New York failed to comply with the MOVE Act, and mailed its 2010 overseas ballots well after the deadline, using first class mail. The State of New York then rejected nearly one military overseas ballot out of every three returned because they arrived after the deadline.

And according to one report by AMVETS and the Military Voting Rights Project, only 4.6 percent of military voters were able to get ballots counted in that election cycle. While 41 percent of eligible voters turned out nationwide for the 2010 mid-term elections, when you factor in military voters who voted in person, the overall military participation rate in 2010 was about 11.6 percent, according to Eric Eversole, the author of the study and the head of the Military Voting Rights Project. [i]

The voting problems in 2010 were exacerbated by a failure of the Department of Justice’s Voting Rights project to update its website with details of the new law for nine months after its passage. The Justice Department also drew criticism from Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), one of the law’s sponsors, who also had reservations about the timeline. From a letter Cornyn wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department:

States will have less than 17 days after the Democratic National Convention, which is scheduled for the week of Sept. 3, 2012, to prepare, print, and send ballots to our troops before the 45-day deadline for the general election. This short time period gives me significant cause for concern that some jurisdictions may not make the deadline.

A certain decline in the number of overseas ballots is to be expected: In 2008, there were over 100,000 troops deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Those troops are home now, though we have increased our troop commitment to Afghanistan. 

The drop-off comes despite a detailed 2011 IG-inspection report that monitored DoD voter assistance programs in all four uniformed services and found them to be broadly in compliance.

Military voters broke for Bush over Kerry by 16 points in 2004, and for McCain over Obama by 10 points in 2008, according to the New York Times.

If you are a U.S. citizen residing overseas and you need to make arrangements to vote, visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program (www.FVAP.org). Or contact your unit voting rights officer or NCO.



[i] Military Voting in 2010: A Step Forward, But A Long Way to Go, Military Voter Protection Project & AMVETS Clinic at the Chapman University School of Law

 

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